Aug. 25 (UPI) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday there may be about 1,500 Americans who have yet to be evacuated from Afghanistan as less than a week remains in the Biden administration’s plan to complete its withdrawal from the country.
In a State Department briefing, Blinken said that when the evacuation began, there were about 6,000 Americans living in Afghanistan, and at least 4,500 have been evacuated, “likely more.” The United States began removing Americans and U.S. allies from Kabul on Aug. 14, when the Taliban overtook the capital in anticipation of U.S. troops’ departure.
“Over the past 24 hours, we’ve been in direct contact with approximately 500 additional Americans and provided specific instructions on how to get to the airport safely,” Blinken said.
“For the remaining roughly 1,000 contacts that we had who may be Americans seeking to leave Afghanistan, we’re aggressively reaching out to them multiple times a day through multiple channels of communication.”
Blinken said Taliban control is complicating the effort to evacuate people. The militant group on Tuesday announced, for instance, that it wouldn’t allow Afghan citizens access to the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
He also cited possible violence by the Islamic State-Korasan Province, a self-proclaimed offshoot of the Islamic State, which denies affiliation. The Biden administration refers to the group as ISIS-K.
“We’re operating in a hostile environment in a city and country now controlled by the Taliban with the very real possibility of an ISIS-K attack,” Blinken said. “We’re taking every precaution but this is very high-risk. As the president said yesterday, we’re on track to complete our mission by August 31 provided the Taliban continue to cooperate and there is no disruption to this effort.
President Joe Biden on Tuesday said he has no plans to extend the Aug. 31 deadline for evacuations, despite pressure from fellow Group of Seven countries and U.S. lawmakers.
“This morning @potus should inform the Taliban that we will be in #Afghanistan until everyone we & our allies plan to evacuate is accounted for & out of the country,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted Wednesday. “If they cooperate it should be swift & orderly If they get in the way they will be killed.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that military officials presented Biden with contingency plans in case there’s a need for troops to remain beyond the deadline.
“These are incredibly serious issues and discussions happening internally,” she said.
Also Wednesday, the World Bank announced it ended financial support to Afghanistan over concerns about how the new Taliban rule and its history of suppression of women’s rights.